The term Southern rock has some power connected to it.
People immediately think of high-octane ’70s bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Marshall Tucker Band. Trouble is, sometimes people think a little too narrowly about it, as if a band playing Southern rock has to sound exactly like Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers to be good.
“Yeah, we do get pigeonholed by that term a bit, but we don’t consider it an insult,” said Charlie Starr, singer and guitarist with Blackberry Smoke, one of the latest bands to carry the Southern rock label. “But we’re not a throwback act or a tribute band. We love those (Southern rock) bands, but for us it’s about trying to write good songs that resonate with people.”
In fact, Starr says, his list of songwriting heroes is long and diverse. Those include Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson and his all-time favorite, Hank Williams.
“How can you write a better song than “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)?” asked Starr, naming Williams’ 1951 tune. “His songs weren’t fantasy. He was getting inside of people’s heads, where they live.”
Blackberry Smoke will be trying to get inside the heads of some Mainers Sunday when they play the State Theatre in Portland. Maine’s Mallett Brothers Band, with a country/rock flair of its own, will open.
Blackberry Smoke’s most recent album, 2012’s “The Whippoorwill,” shows the band’s Southern influences in a variety of ways.
The tune “Ain’t Much Left of Me” is a hard-rocking number with fuzzy-sounding electric guitars, pounding drums and screeching vocals. But “One Horse Town” is a more mellow, soulful song with gentle strumming, high harmonies and laments about small-town life.
The band formed more than a dozen years ago in Atlanta. It was the nearest big city to where most of the band members were from, so they moved there, on their own, to play music.
Starr, 39, grew up in Lanett, Ala., a small factory town near Auburn where generations of his family worked in textile mills. His dad played music, bluegrass mostly, and taught him to play guitar.
But Starr says more importantly, his father warned him against a life of mill work.
“It’s a bad deal, bad for your ears, bad for your lungs,” said Starr of textile work. “My dad always said to me, ‘Don’t even think of working there.’ ”
After high school Starr moved to Atlanta to get work as a guitar player. He didn’t think of himself as songwriter yet, and mostly just wanted to focus on guitar.
He played in cover bands and eventually teamed with the other future members of Blackberry Smoke, including Richard and Brit Turner, Paul Jackson and Brandon Still. They were together in the backing band of another musician, Starr said.
“I think we just all got sick of being in his band and wanted to be in our own band,” said Starr. “So we fired him from his own band. We started playing songs we had written, that he never wanted to hear.”
As Blackberry Smoke, Starr and his bandmates got their big break when fellow Atlanta resident Jesse James Dupree of the band Jackyl took an interest in them.
“He heard a couple of our songs and really liked them. He took us on tour with him and gave us studio time to make an album,” said Starr.
The Mallett Brothers Band is a good choice to open for Blackberry Smoke, having a rock sound and some Southern roots as well. Members Will and Luke Mallett spent much of their childhoods in Nashville, where their songwriter/musician father Dave Mallett was working.
Now based in Maine, the Mallett Brothers Band has been touring hard for about four years, trying to establish themselves.
“It’s important to go out there and be in front of people, I think that’s something we learned from our father,” said Luke Mallett.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: